(+) Can You Trust Online Genealogy Data?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

“I found it online, so it must be true!”

Of course not. If you have been involved in researching your family tree for more than a few months, you already know the truth about online genealogy data. Or do you?

You can go to almost any of today’s online genealogy sites and find information that appears to be false. I’ll pick on FamilySearch.org as it is a free and open database, making it a good example that everyone can see. However, similar examples exist on most of the commercial genealogy databases as well.

The first example is that of Mary Allyn. According to FamilySearch, Mary married Henry L. Brooks in Connecticut on 21 April 1564. You can find that “record” at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F7G9-14N.

As I remember from my history classes in school, Connecticut didn’t exist in those days. The only people found there in the mid 1500s would have been American Indians, and the name “Mary Allyn” sure doesn’t sound like an Indian name to me! In fact, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block first visited the area in 1614. The first settlement from the New Netherlands colony was a trading post not far from present-day Hartford, and the first English settlers arrived in 1635. It would therefore seem silly to claim marriages in the area in 1564.

In a similar vein, you can find a birth record in FamilySearch for John Smith born in Hadley, Massachusetts, on 6 May 1600, as listed at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FHGP-ZHL. That is obviously twenty years before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and 59 years before the town of Hadley was first settled!

A third example is for a location I know well. Again, looking at data in FamilySearch, Sophia Robinson is listed as born in Thetford Township, Orange County, Vermont, on 1 May 1604, shown at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F8LW-T2N. That’s a neat trick considering that 1604 was many years before the first settlers arrived in Vermont and 157 years before the town of Thetford was created in 1761!

I picked on FamilySearch.org simply because it is a free site and the claims are easily found. However, if we look at most any other online genealogy database containing “records” submitted by the general public, we will see thousands of similar, obvious errors.

These are but a few of the obvious errors; there are many thousands more. In fact, most of the errors are not so obvious. I picked a few examples of births before each area was settled, but most errors sound much more plausible. A birth in Massachusetts in the 1700s or in Texas in the late 1800s might be equally inaccurate but much less obvious since those areas were well populated at the time.

Shouldn’t these so-called “facts” be checked? Isn’t the Internet increasing the amount of bad data floating around? Isn’t it a bad thing to allow false information to be posted online where others will find it?

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